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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2006

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Book Reviews

Does the World Need Another "Nano etc." Encyclopedia?

Susan B. Ardis
Head Science and Engineering Libraries Division
University of Texas
Austin, Texas

Encyclopedia of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Hari Singh Nalwa, Editor-in-Chief. American Scientific Publishers, 2004. 10 volumes. ISBN 1-58883-001-2. Available in Print and Online Editions. Print plus Online Price: $6,992. Separate price available for Print Edition plus Online Edition with one year of online access.
How many books on nanotechnology can be published in a year? Or, as David Flaxbart asked in his review of a competing title (Dekker 2004), "what role does an advanced encyclopedia play in the age of Google?"; "Does anyone really need a printed encyclopedia anymore, and are the costs of these encyclopedias starting to outweigh the benefits?" (Flaxbart 2004). I would ask two additional questions: "is American Scientific Publishers making a career out of publishing nanoscience books" and "does the 10-volume Encyclopedia of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology," weighing in at a hefty 67 pounds, meet the needs of today's students and researchers? These and other questions will be considered as we attempt to discover whether there is enough of a cost-benefit ratio for libraries to consider purchasing this highly specialized and expensive encyclopedia.

Nanotechnology has clearly captured the attention of the scientific and publishing worlds (Foster 2005). Just as clearly there is a lot of buzz out in the business world, but regardless of all the palaver, "nano" is a prefix that delineates size, just as the prefix "micro" does, and as a prefix it can be added to any number of words to create new concepts, including:

Much of this excitement was amplified by the passage of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 20031. Funding from this Act has led to the creation of nanoscience centers in large research universities all across the country. With funding comes research, with research comes articles, followed by publishers, publishing books. In fact, a recent search (on May 30, 2006) of shows 208 books have been published since 2004 with the word "nanotechnology" in the title. A further examination of this Amazon search shows that Nalwa and his company, American Scientific Publishers, are heavily involved in publishing "nano" books -- they currently have 17 books just out or coming soon with this prefix in the title. Some examples include:

Biochips Nanotechnology by Nongyue He (Editor), Hari Singh Nalwa (Editor) (Hardcover - September 30, 2006).

Cancer Nanotechnology by Hari Singh Nalwa (Editor), Thomas Webster (Editor) (Hardcover - October 15, 2007).

Handbook of Electrochemical Nanotechnology (2-Volume Set) by Yuehe Lin (Editor), Hari Singh Nalwa (Editor) (Hardcover - July 31, 2006).

Packaging Nanotechnology by Amar K. Mohanty (Editor), Hari Singh Nalwa (Editor) (Hardcover - July 31, 2006).

Now that we know the world of nano publishing is hot and that there is a competitor to this set (Dekker 2004), exactly what is the true audience for this set? According to Nalwa, the set is aimed at "students, researchers, professionals, faculty members working in the areas of nanoscience and technology dealing with physical sciences, engineering and biology." And if this weren't a large enough group, in the Introduction he goes on to list "the audience working in the fields of nanotechnology and nanoscience having strong connections with material science, electrical and electronic engineering, solid-state physics, surface science, aerosol technology, chemistry, colloid science, ceramic and chemical engineering, polymer science, sol-gel science, supramolecular science, mechanical engineering, metallurgy and powder technology, science and etc. etc." Who's left? Obviously this work is designed to be of interest to everybody in science, technology or medicine. Let's see if this is true.

The set consists of 419 specialized articles on a wide variety of subjects, from aligned carbon nanotubes to zinc oxide nanostructures. The articles were written by a host of international contributors, and all 419 are indexed in Chemical Abstracts. (Note that none of the articles in the Dekker set have been indexed as of May 30, 2006.) Access to articles in the paper volumes is possible in three ways: the entire set is arranged in an A-Z organization; there is a broad subject categorization list; and there is an index. To check access and coverage, five "hot" topics were selected from a recent Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report (2003) which polled leading scientists to help them predict the top potential nanotechnology applications:

  1. photovoltaic paint, liquid solar cells
  2. biological electronics, using mother nature to grow electronics
  3. multifunctional dentrimers (combination disease imaging and treatment)
  4. regenerative neurotechnology
  5. self cleaning clothes

The results of this test were inconclusive. Large topics such as dendrimers and solar cells were well covered; however, highly specific topics such as self-cleaning clothes/textiles were not. The next idea was to select four topics from the highly regarded one-volume Handbook of Nanotechnology (jointly published by SPIE and ASME in 2002). The following were checked for coverage, currency, readability, and references:

  1. Smart materials
  2. Electromagnetic sensors
  3. Nanoscale biostructures
  4. Nanoparticle optics
  5. Risk

Relevant articles for the first four were easy to find, the topics were well covered and the reference lists were more than adequate. The first author from each of the first four subjects was checked to see if he had published other articles on this topic and each had written several recent research articles on topics related to his encyclopedia article. However, there was no coverage of any potential risks associated with nanotechnology even though this topic has been well covered in a number of books and articles (Hampton 2005).

Next, the index itself was examined and a number of oddities were found. For example: the entries "nano (meter)" and "nanometer" do not index the same pages and neither cross-references the other. The same thing happens with terms like Zinc oxide and ZnO2 or Titanium Oxide and TiO2.

Back to the questions at hand: is this set worth the money, and should science libraries buy it? If you judge the value of an expensive purchase by the awards won, then you should know that this set has won the 2005 Best Reference Work of the American Society for Engineering Education and the 2005 Outstanding Academic Title from Choice (ALA). The fact that an expensive encyclopedia has won awards merely means that I will give the set serious consideration. I will not just pass it by. However, I never decide to buy anything on this basis alone. I buy based on my local situation: budget, user groups, and research activity. For my money, there is one reason to give this encyclopedia serious consideration, and that is the fact that all of the articles are indexed in Chemical Abstracts (i.e., in SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar). This means that users can find the articles from this set as part of a traditional literature search, and this is a good thing.

This being said, I agree with David Flaxbart -- we need to give serious thought to whether there is still a need for specialized encyclopedias and whether this is the way we want to spend our finite resources. As science librarians we need to "get a grip" and make some hard decisions about what we need to buy, what is useful, and we must do library cost benefit analysis before we buy expensive, specialized sets -- no matter how trendy or hyped the topic covered is. It's really a local decision. I have decided that I will not purchase any specialized encyclopedias unless the articles are discoverable through a traditional abstract or indexing tool. In the end, what we have here is a competent but pricey encyclopedia on a trendy topic where the articles are indexed in a major bibliographic tool. The Encyclopedia of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology should meet all of our needs for the foreseeable future.


1 President Bush signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act on December 3, 2003. The legislation authorizes $3.7 billion over four years for nanoscience, nanoengineering, and nanotechnology research, and provides for the President to create a National Nanotechnology Research Program. {}. PL 108-153, Dec 2003.


Dekker Encyclopedia of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. 2004. New York : Marcel Dekker.

Flaxbart, David. 2004 Death of an Encyclopedia Salesman?" The Fate of Science Reference Resources in the Digital Age. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 40 (Summer 2004). [Online]. Available: [Accessed July 31, 2006].

Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report. 2003. Category Killers: Five Nanotechnologies the Could Change the World.

Foster, Lynn E. 2005. Nanotechnology: science, innovation and opportunity. Uple Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hampton, Tracy. 2005. Researchers size up nanotechnology risks. JAMA 294(15): 1881-1883.

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